Another one came today. She seemed to be so nice, innocent, naïve and trusting. She burst through the doorway, cheeks flushed from the cold, announcing “HimynameisAliHoneycuttIwaswonderingifyouhadanyfantasybooksImightlike?” all in one breath. If she knew- Oh! If she only knew! - the horrors that awaited her, she might have instead ran screaming in the opposite direction. I felt that by now, dooming children should no longer cause the pain it once did. In a way, I was right. It felt much worse.
I groaned inwardly. Here we go again, I thought. “It all depends on perspective. What are you wishing to get lost in? A murder mystery or a Shakespeare classic? Or something in between? I must warn you though, many don’t like the books they find here.” Maybe my strange way with words would keep her away. I clung to the hope every time.
Instead she giggled. “You talk funny, mister! I was actually wondering if I could borrow a book called The Cursed Man and then maybe borrow another like it. The Main library doesn’t have it and I was so sad. But then I saw your library in the phone book and here I am.” How ironic, I thought, The Cursed Man! How perfectly that described me. The curse kept me from yelling, “Run away! Run for your life! Escape while you can!” The curse kept me from refusing to give her the book. The curse made sure that the book that was wanted was always here. The curse made sure I was always there, as I wasn’t allowed to leave. The curse made them ignore the warning. Either that or nobody ever listened. And unlike in fairy tales, this curse couldn’t be broken unless I passed my burden to somebody else, preferably somebody that annoyed me, and leave this earth and all my earthly troubles.
Resigned to my fate, I turned and walked over to the shelves. Without much struggle, I found her book and another I thought she would like. When you aren’t allowed to leave, even memorizing the Dewey Decimal System becomes appealing. It is better than remembering anyway. Ali interrupted my thoughts. “Do I need a library card? The only one I have is for the Main library.” A pause and then, “Are you OK? You don’t look so good.” The memories still haunt, and I suspect they always will.
I shrugged and then passed by my wall of “library members”. I walked quickly to where I kept the Polaroid and the library cards. Every time I was forced to lend a book, I always took a picture of them and had them fill out a survey type paper. It probably isn’t healthy but I had a picture of every victim and their paper taped on a wall. It said “Library Members” at the top in a fancy font, as the curse won’t let me frighten them away. I finally speak saying, “You don’t need your other card, I just need a picture and I need you to sign here,” I look away as she signs, “and fill this out.” Nobody would ever defend me if they caught me doing this. Nobody would say, “He had warned her about the book.” Now it was too late. I cannot stop the crushing force of the sins I have. I had offended the Sorcerer of the Libraries. No wish or red ruby slippers could change the mind of somebody who would make Mohmand Ali cower in the corner muttering, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it!”
“Gee, this is a lot more complicated than the other library! All we had to do was be old enough to write our name. It didn’t even have to be in cursive, thank goodness! I know how to though…” Ali kept talking on and on but I stopped listening. It is hard enough to steal the soul, or life, of somebody you don’t know, let alone somebody you know the life story of!
I motioned that I needed to take her picture, and began to listen again. She was babbling on about a person named Louella Patton. How in the world had she gotten to talking about that? Louella was the first person I gave a book to. Did Ali see a connection? I wasn’t sure whether or whether not to desperately hope to be caught or to hope not to be. If I was caught they would need to exact justice and use my life to pay for my sins. I almost think I would welcome the end to my suffering. Although, the curse might make the entire population outside my door lose a lot of memories. If I was removed from my station and the curse didn’t stop my inevitable capture, then some other poor person would become the monster that is me. I shook my head to clear my thoughts, quickly snapped a picture and handed her the books. She skipped out the door without a care in the world. If only she knew.
It happened today. My picture of Ali Honeycutt changed. It wasn’t enough see easily, but the picture got darker. I knew that it was happening. I knew that she would be forgetting basic things, such as who her best friend was, where her classroom at school should be, and her dog’s name. She would probably try to pass it off as a joke because, after all, who would want to admit to her dog that she forgot? I knew that later in the process (I say this to protect the little bit of sanity I have left) she would have brief episodes where she would forget her age or yes, even her name. 2 weeks after she burst in to my library she would not wake up. She would be gone. I have always hoped that it is painless for them. I probably won’t ever know.
Today was the day, her last day. On these days I don’t even leave my office. I sit and try to respect the soon to be gone.
I knew it had happened. The picture changed to show her last moments. Why? Why do I have to do this? Once I learned what the Sorcerer of Libraries had done to me I wanted to yell at him, “I was playing tag! I was only a little boy for goodness’s sake! I ran into the room and right back out! I didn’t steal a rare and precious book! I don’t deserve this cruel torture! No one does!”
I felt something inside me snap. “I am done!!!”, I yelled, “you’ve done it! Congratulations world! I am broken!” I’ve gone mad- no, I am a lunatic, a maniac, and most likely mentally ill. “I am not afraid! I am going to try! And I will succeed!” I had done a few half-hearted tests on the curse. Nothing had worked. “But it will now!” I forcefully mumbled to myself. The few tests had been before I was swallowed in grief by Louella Patton’s death. They mostly consisted of trying to walk out the door. Every time it was like walking into glass. This was how I attracted Louella’s attention in the first place.
I tried it again. Much like the few zillions of times before, I bounced off the nothingness of the open door, feeling like a foolish bird who couldn’t see that there was obviously glass in front of him. I could scratch that off the list. Walking away wouldn’t work. I tried defying the curse in other ways, such as writing “Imminent danger comes to all who enter!”, on a paper and taping it to the door, but before I could tape it to the door, I blacked out, and later regained consciousness at my desk with, “you might get lost in a book!” written at the bottom of the page.
After a few more failed attempts, I stopped to think about the process that the children undergo. First, they check out a book. Then they go home and go about as normal. For the first week they forget minor things, as only a little bit of their soul has been sucked into a book. In the second week, the soul suction increases. The book has a tiny bit of the soul and wants it all. The child then forgets bigger, more important things. Then the book finally wins the war. The child is still breathing and is usually thought to be in a coma. If the antagonist wins, and I think they usually do, the breathing stops. If the child wins, she wakes up from the coma. I am ashamed of what I do, but I must do it anyway. Their souls are forever safe in the books. For some strange reason, the parents and family who find the child never notice the seeds growing out of the book. They see the body of the child and ignore the soul. As I thought a little more about the steps, I realized that since the children were transported into the books, they probably had to fight the antagonist of the story. That meant that the other children I had done in probably couldn’t be saved, but there is a chance Ali could hold out until I could save her. I could write a book about what I have done and check it out to me! Or better yet, I could catalog my journal and check it out! I then would have to face myself, and if I win then I am free from my curse! If I don’t win, then the world will be a better place at least.
I, Arthur Linden, have cataloged my journal and checked it out. I am probably a few minutes away from, uh, wait where am I going? Whatever. Here I g - wait! Before I leave I have to write something down… annnnnnnnd…. done! Here goes nothing!
I am free!!! As I write this I am outside cooling down after running 3 miles in 45 minutes. I have never felt so alive or free! I have Ali Honeycutt’s address from when she signed up for a library card. I am really nervous now. I defeated my darkest side, the side that was darker that you will ever know, and this is what scares me? I knock on the door of her house. Her mother opens the door. “Good morning ma’am! I checked some books out to Ali Honeycutt a while ago and I was just letting you guys know that they are overdue. What’s wrong ma’am? Is something the matter?” I almost hate myself for feigning cheerfulness.
“Oh, it isn’t your fault. Nobody told you. Our dear Ali is in the hospital in a coma. The doctors say that there isn’t much hope.” Mrs. Honeycutt’s eyes get really big and fill with tears.
“I am so, so sorry to hear that ma’am. I just need the books and I leave you to be in peace.” I really don’t want to bug her, but I think the books must be near the body. “I would love to go see your daughter. Would you please tell me which room she is in?”
After a few buses, I got out in front of the hospital and somehow found the room. I had to beg the doctors to let me see her. “I must make it in there! I am her uncle!” I remember saying. I was finally let into the room. “Come on Ali! You can do it!” I muttered. And then her chocolaty beautiful brown eyes blissfully opened.
I don’t know exactly where, who, or what I am. There is fine print on the back of my wrist that says “You were the Sorcerer of Libraries. That is no longer. The curse is broken. Save Ali Honeycutt. You are forgiven.”